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  • Writer's pictureJenny Carless

The Birds—and Beasts—of East Africa

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

Two of the most charming books I’ve read are “A Guide to the Birds of East Africa” and its sequel, “A Guide to the Beasts of East Africa,” by Nicholas Drayson.

Mr. Drayson may be sick and tired of comparisons to Alexander McCall Smith’s “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series. (If so, I apologize.) But I bring up the comparison because I believe that everyone who adores Mma Ramotswe and has fallen in love with Botswana through that series will fall just as surely for Kenya through these books, thanks to Mr. Malik, “Tiger” Singh and the other fellows at the Asadi Club (a social club) in Nairobi.

In the first book, we meet Mr. Malik (“brown, short, round and balding”), a man you suspect is not often taken to passion but who is nonetheless passionately in love with Rose Mbikwa, leader of the East African Ornithological Society’s Tuesday morning bird walks. Just when he is plucking up the courage to invite Rose to the Hunt Club ball, a childhood nemesis, Harry Khan, shows up and sets his sights on Rose, too.

The gentlemen of the Asadi Club dream up a contest: Malik and Khan will keep a list of all the birds they see in one week, and whoever has the most species at the end of that time wins the right to invite Rose. This sets the heartwarming story in motion. No mass murders or high-speed chases, but a very endearing portrait of this circle of friends and acquaintances—and lots of interesting birds.

In the equally enjoyable sequel, “A Guide to the Beasts of East Africa,” the club is all atwitter about a new theory as to the 1941 murder of Lord Erroll (of the infamous Happy Valley set). The Asadi Club members go on a little safari, Mr. Malik’s daughter is getting married—and Harry Khan is back causing trouble again.

While you will learn about the birds (and beasts) of East Africa, what’s even better is that you’ll fall in love with this delightful cast of characters. I highly recommend both books—and I hope Mr. Drayson is working on a third.

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